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Posts Tagged ‘failure’

Plateaus

There’s going to come a time when you’ll stagnate in your fitness. You’ll stop losing weight (before you reach your goal weight), or exercise less and less frequently. You’ll stop tracking your caloric intake, or even stop thinking so much about food.

While losing weight and getting fit is simple, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. In order for your body to burn stored fat you have to create an energy deficit on your intake. In plainer terms, you have to expend more energy than you take in (in the form of food). We measure energy that the body uses in terms of calories (technically, kilocalories, but most labels ignore the kilo- prefix). Obviously, if you’re going to keep under a certain caloric limit you’re going to have to know how many calories are in the food you eat each day. On top of that, you’re also going to have to track it cumulatively so that you know when you’ve reached your limit. Ideally, of course, you’d also log your food before you eat it so you can make decisions based on your caloric needs.

Ohio: One Big Plateau
Ohio: One Big Plateau

Looking up a food in a reference to see how many calories it has before you eat it? Simple. Doing it every single day before every single meal? Not so easy.

I’ve found that when I track my caloric intake and stick to a daily hard-limit that I lose weight pretty consistently. When I get lazy, though, and stop actively logging everything: I either gain weight or stay the same.

For the last few months of 2010 through the early part of 2012 I remained relatively stagnant in my weight loss. Actually, to be completely honest, in the latter months of 2011 I actually gained about 15 pounds back. Ugh. I stopped logging my food because quite frankly, it’s annoying and a bit of a pain in the ass to do it all the time. It works, but it’s a pain.

Where I Went Wrong

I had some major life changes in that timeframe. I got engaged, and then 13 months later got married. My then fiancée and I bought a house. Having moved to a new neighborhood, we of course wanted to try out new restaurants that were within walking distance. Eating with a partner instead of eating alone meant that my ridiculous habit of eating the same meal for five days in a row because I still had the ingredients for it wouldn’t fly. All of these things are excuses, of course, for why I wasn’t losing weight. Obviously, my stagnation was my wife’s fault.

I kid. I have no one to blame but myself, and the worst part of it was that I was a bad influence on her, too. We decided to get a treadmill instead of joining another gym we’d stop going to after a few months (I’ll have to write more on gyms later), which turned out to be a fantastic investment. No longer will Chicago’s harsh Winters be an excuse to not walk.

Back to stagnation. I’ve heard that dieters often face plateaus as their bodies get used to their new diet. That’s fine, but I’m not on a diet. I’m just adjusting my eating habits and activity levels. So why have I stagnated?

Was it any of the excuses I listed above? Eh, I’m sure they all played their part, but really I stopped succeeding because I stopped working the system. It happened slowly over time. I started to guesstimate calories in a meal rather than look it up. Doing the math in your head is fine if you’ve already looked up the food and know its caloric intake – I still do this when eating out sometimes – but over time I stopped doing even that. Then of course the unhealthy meal every once in a while became more frequent.

The habit that didn’t break for me was being more active. I kept up other habits too, like weighing-in nearly every day and wearing my FitBit so I could track my steps. Of course, I stopped trying to hit my 10,000 steps per day goal. But I was wearing the FitBit all the time and at least tracking how little I sometimes walked on a lazy Sunday.

So those are the things I internalized and made part of who I am. Tracking calories? Not so much.

How I Got Back On Track

I got back into Clean Livin’, full-swing again when I got the results of the blood test taken during my annual physical. Everything was pretty much normal except that my cholesterol was high for the first time ever. Not super-high, but my LDLs was a little on the high side, and my HDL (good cholesterol) wasn’t as high as it should be. My doctor said that if I should adjust my diet and increase my exercise levels to try to correct my cholesterol naturally, and if I couldn’t affect results within three months that I’d have to go on a statin drug in order to correct it with medication. Immediately I made changes to my diet and started exercising more.

I was scared straight.

I’m now four weeks into doing the right thing and I’ve lost 15 pounds so far. I’m still not down to the lowest since I’ve been tracking it, but I expect to be soon.

Writing this is clearly an integral part of Clean Livin’ for me. I’ll keep you posted.

Derailment

Getting healthy is hard, especially when you started at such an unfit condition as I did. It takes discipline, effort, and commitment. It also takes a long time, so you have lots of opportunities to screw it up. Most people can probably keep up with any kind of fitness regime for a few weeks or months.

After a while you may eat the wrong things more often, or neglect to exercise as much as you probably need to, or consume too many calories a day. You may start to plateau in your weight even though you’re eating right and exercising. Heck, you may start gaining weight back again.  All of these things are extremely frustrating and hurt your long-term progress.

I’ve had some setbacks that I had to correct.  My “every once in a while” foods became more frequent in the Winter, when it was also cold enough outside to make it hard to walk and otherwise be active as often as I needed to. I found myself craving high-calorie “comfort” foods. I stopped going to the gym as often. My daily feedback cycle was causing me to get even more discouraged – even on days when I did everything right I wasn’t losing weight, or wasn’t losing as quickly as I’d hoped.

What Causes Diets and Exercise Plans to Fail

Rodin: Les Bourgeois de Calais detailAs I’ve been having some success at losing weight and staying on track even after some setbacks, I’ve thought a lot about what factors contribute to my failure so I can figure out how to avoid them. I have problems with seasonal depression, and the changes I’d been making to my body only exacerbated my condition once the cold Chicago Winter came.

I was making a list of these factors when I had an epiphany and realized that they all stemmed from the same root cause.  What causes people to abandon clean livin’ and start doing the wrong thing is despair. Despair about such minuscule improvements after putting so much hard work into exercise. Despair about those times when you didn’t have the self-discipline to eat as healthily as you know you should. Despair about how long it’s going to take to get healthy, and whether or not the effort you’re putting into the process really feels like it’s paying off.

Physical fitness is fueled by the hope of a healthy and attractive body; despair is the loss of hope. It’s the opposite of hope – giving into weakness and taking the easy route toward a harder life.

You’d think that everyone would eat healthily considering the benefits – looking and feeling better, living longer, being able to perform physical feats, and being the best version of yourself that you can be. So why doesn’t everyone always do the right thing?

The fact of the matter is that getting fit is going to take a lot of time and effort, and you’re going to slip because you’re human.  You’re supposed to slip and do the wrong thing from time to time. It’s like holding your breath – eventually you’re going to have to take another. You can’t torture yourself or you won’t stick to the process.  I’ve found that it doesn’t even help to build wrong days into your schedule, because it’s hard to tell when that craving for chocolate brownies is going to strike, and if you plan to eat one anyway when you don’t really even want one, well, that’s just working against yourself.

So the only trick to dealing with despair is to not give into it.  In other words, don’t despair about despairing. Remember why you’re trying to be healthier in the first place.  Here are some tips to avoid the trap of falling into despair and staying on your path to a fitter and healthier body:

  • Get regular feedback about your progress. If you’re weighing-in every day you can’t gain that much weight by eating one bad meal. Or even a few. If you see the scale go up in the morning, you can reaffirm your goals for the day on the day that it matters.
  • Reassess your goals at least once a week. How are you working toward getting healthier? What could you do better? What stumbling blocks are standing in your way?
  • Look back. How much progress have you made so far? Look at photos of yourself from a few months ago.  Do you want to go back to that?
  • Remember: you’ve been doing this, which means you can do this.  If you can do it for one month you can do it for another month.

Anything less than forward progress means that you did all that hard work for nothing. There is no option but success.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I'm just some guy who lost a lot of weight and studied up on nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to improve my personal fitness. The contents of this site in no way contains medical advice. You should visit your doctor before making any dramatic changes to your diet or activity. While I make every attempt to be as accurate as possible regarding current knowledge and scientific studies (please feel free to let me know when I'm wrong about something), and may from time to time post updates to correct inaccuracies in previous entries, the information on this site is provided "as-is" for entertainment purposes only. Don't do something stupid and then sue me. I'm just trying to help. Thanks.